Hopefully by the end of October, the summer rust has been shaken off and hunters are settling in for the deer season. Some hunters have already put some meat in the freezer, but with the rut beginning shortly, hunters are turning attention to big-bodied, heavy-horned bucks.
And, of course, the Bayou State has a long history of producing some nice bucks, and even has a program to prove it.
Louisiana's Big Game Recognition Program documents white-tailed deer harvested within the state that meet or exceed minimum antler size. Annual lists, compiled by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, are published in early to mid-summer and the all-time list has historically been published every three years. Both lists can also be found at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.
To be recognized, deer harvested by rifle or muzzleloader must have a minimum score of 130 inches (typical), while deer taken with a muzzleloader must score 110 inches and bow kills must score a minimum of 90 inches.
Between 2011 and 2015, deer hunters in Louisiana added roughly 150 deer to the Louisiana Big Game Recognition Program from 43 parishes across the state. The list suggests hunters in most parishes have a chance for a record book buck, but it also shows that most big bucks taken in Louisiana come from areas adjoining the Mississippi River, primarily because of soil, which produces excellent habitat.
"When added together, nutrition and proper management will contribute to producing big-bodied, heavy-antlered deer," said Scott Durham, LDWF Deer Study leader. "People farm here because of the nature of the soil and deer grow big here because of the soil.
Natural deposits of minerals like phosphorus and calcium are enhanced by intense agriculture. These minerals are transferred to vegetation, which are eaten, in turn by passing deer.
Coupling natural browse, especially the hardwood component and the planting of soybean and corn, it is easy to see this part of the state is rich with nutrients."
With an excess nutrients and minerals available, deer with the proper genetics have the opportunity to grow massive antlers. Additionally, many private landowners are also managing to produce quality antlers.
And in white-tailed bucks, age equates to larger antlers, especially when provided the proper nutrition. Some parishes, however, offer better habitat, as well as more public opportunities than others.
With 49 entries between 2011 and 2015, Avoyelles Parish tops the list this year. Hunters in this parish likely have a higher than average chance at tagging a record-book buck. Along with a deer population with good genetics, there are numerous WMAs in or near the parish that offer hunters plenty of opportunities.
The 6,400-acre Pomme de Terre WMA is located six miles east of Moreauville in Avoyelles Parish. The WMA, like most places within the Delta, is low and flat. Open water and marshy areas comprise a good portion of the WMA, though a series of low ridges running east to west provide some topographic relief.
Also in Avoyelles Parish is Grassy Lake. The WMA lies squarely in the Red River alluvial plain and is subject to periodic flooding, but it contains nearly 20 miles of all-weather roads, as well as a network of ATV trails.
Spring Bayou WMA is located northwest of Spring Lake, and contains 12,506 acres owned by the LDWF. The area is located within the backwater system of the Red River and is generally low and poorly drained, with about 40 percent covered by water, along with open lakes, bayous, bays, and sloughs.
The various habitats found on Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), including croplands, reforested bottomland hardwoods, cypress swamps and permanent waters, are managed to benefit wildlife. Many agricultural fields on the refuge have been reforested with hardwood tree species that dominated the land years ago.
Native oaks, cypress, ash, gum, and pecan trees have been planted in hopes of restoring the bottomland hardwood and swamp forests that support deer and other wildlife. Archery hunters on Lake Ophelia NWR have placed four deer in the record books, while their muzzleloading counterparts have placed 12 entries in the all-time records, including a 168-inch deer and several 150-class bucks.
Tensas and Madison are combined because they share so many things in common including habitat, land use patterns, public lands and historic buck harvest. Recent additions to the all time record book include 14 deer from Tensas and 8 from Madison parish, and a large portion of each of these parishes' timberlands are publically owned by state or federal agencies.
A current state record, a 281-inch, non-typical deer, was taken in Tensas Parish back in 1994. Coupling plenty of public land, a strong gene pool, and some of the most fertile soil in all of Louisiana, Bayou State Sportsmen chasing deer in either Tensas or Madison should always be ready for a big buck to step from behind the palmettos.
Of course, Buckhorn WMA is a good place to start, as it is surrounded on all sides by cropland, which deer often use to supplement natural forage. Buckhorn sports thousand acres of bottomland hardwood forests with undulating ridges and swales, and 34 bucks were killed during the 2014 managed hunt.
Incorporating large portions of both Tensas and Madison parishes, the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge offers outstanding public deer hunting, with approximately 80,000 acres.
The Judd Brake Unit and The Fool River Unit of the refuge are found in Tensas Parish. Historically, bowhunting is legal all season, and lottery hunts generally occur twice per year: once in November and again in late December near the beginning of the early and late ruts, respectively.
Archery hunters have taken several 150- and 160-class deer, but hunters must be sure to read the regulations, as federal rules can differ from state.
Concordia Parish's eastern boundary is formed by the Mississippi River, so the river's annual floods have deposited millions of tons of silt and nutrients in layers upon layers of rich dirt. Here, farming and agriculture thrive, as does a population of healthy, record-book bucks.
This soil produces lush vegetation, which provides the nutrients needed to produce quality bucks. Louisiana Big Game books are filled with entries from Concordia Parish. Recent additions to the all time records include 15 bucks from Concordia.
Access to prime public lands is another reason Concordia Parish is ranked high on the list. Bayou Cocodrie NWR, for example, encompasses 15,000-forested acres near the center of Concordia Parish.
The namesake bayou cuts through the property's boundaries and provides access to the interior of the NWR. Bayou Cocodrie protects large stands of some of the least disturbed bottomland hardwoods in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Reforested areas, tupelo brakes, cypress swamps, and old growth bottomland hardwoods are readily available.
However, the area is known for complex regulations and season dates, so know the rules before trekking into the woods with a sporting arm.
Richard K. Yancey WMA (Yancey WMA) was formed in 2013 when the former Red River and Three Rivers WMAs were combined and renamed after the prominent LDWF biologist. Presently, Yancey WMA consists of 69,806 acres of rich, dark, forest. The LDWF owns 57,004 acres of the property, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contributes an additional 12,802 acres to the WMA.
The terrain is typically flat, with the only significant changes in relief coming in the form of manmade features, such as elevated roads and levees. Numerous lakes and bayous are formed within the drainage and large portions of the WMA are subject to annual spring flooding by the Red and Mississippi Rivers.
Though considerably damp, the WMA is one of the most buck-producing WMAs in the state.
West Feliciana placed 27 entries in the Louisiana Big Game Recognition Program over recent seasons, while East Feliciana added 16 to the list. However, East Feliciana lacks access to public land, so it is not good for most hunters.
West Feliciana Parish's Cat Island NWR requires a $15 permit to hunt, but the refuge is located along the southern-most un-leveed portion of the lower Mississippi River. The river rises several times during the year between December and June.
As a result, the refuge completely floods most years. As the river rises, the refuge becomes closed to all vehicular access.
Also in West Feliciana, Tunica Hills WMA encompasses roughly 5,900 acres of woods on two tracts of land. The property is characterized by rugged hills, bluffs and ravines, and the area lies at the southern end of the "loess blufflands" escarpment that follows the east bank of the Mississippi River south from its confluence with the Ohio River. Six 120-plus inch deer from the WMA are in the all-time-record book.
ST. LANDRY PARISH
St. Landry Parish is usually located in the top 20 deer producing parishes in the state. Buck hunters in St. Landry are accustomed to producing deer each year. In fact, parish hunters added eight deer to the all time record books between 2011 and 2014.
Though public land is limited to one WMA — Thistlewaite — bucks are not in short supply.
At Thistlewaite, 34 of 59 deer killed during the 2014 managed hunts were bucks. Many miles of all-weather roads are maintained within the WMA, which allows easy access to virtually the entire property. Additionally, miles of trails are also maintained for the convenience of hunters.
The WMA is 11,000 acres in size and is owned by Thistlewaite heirs. The terrain is flat bottomland, with a gentle north-to-south slope. Drainage is slow, with standing water for considerable periods after heavy rains. Forest cover is predominantly oak, with lower areas containing cypress and tupelo gum.
One of the benefits of living in the Bayou State is that every parish (with a few exceptions) has the ability to support populations of quality, healthy bucks. Some of these bucks, unfortunately, are locked — up (figuratively, not literally) on private leases throughout the state. Only those privileged with access to the leased land can hunt them.
There are, however, some other places that biologists consider prime big buck habitat, such as Boeuf River WMA in Caldwell and Catahoula parishes. Boeuf is an up and coming WMA with a healthy population of bucks.
Boeuf River WMA saw 307 deer killed during its rifle hunt, including 178 bucks. This was accomplished with 1,459 efforts (4.8 deer per hunter effort). Amazingly, the WMA produced only two less deer than Yancey with 3,800 fewer efforts.
Other areas include Dewey Wills WMA, where 130 deer were killed during its 2014 management hunts. Dewey Wills is found in portions of southern La Salle and Catahoula parishes, and is composed of approximately 61,800 acres.
The area is flat and poorly drained and is subject to annual flooding. Prior to Department ownership timber was harvested and created an open canopy. However, the forest canopy has closed and browse plants have been reduced.
Of course, all this should be a jumping off point. Put in the time and the effort to find out where the big boys are hiding on accessible lands near you, and one day you may see your name in the recognition books as well.